|Abstract||The concept of the vacuum in quantum field theory is a subtle one. Vacuum states have a rich and complex set of properties that produce distinctive, though usually exceedingly small, physical effects. Quantum vacuum noise is familiar in optical and electronic devices, but in this paper I wish to consider extending the discussion to systems in which gravitation, or large accelerations, are important. This leads to the prediction of vacuum friction: The quantum vacuum can act in a manner reminiscent of a viscous fluid. One result is that rapidly changing gravitational fields can create particles from the vacuum, and in turn the backreaction on the gravitational dynamics operates like a damping force. I consider such effects in early universe cosmology and the theory of quantum black holes, including the possibility that the large-scale structure of the universe might be produced by quantum vacuum noise in an early inflationary phase. I also discuss the curious phenomenon that an observer who accelerates through a quantum vacuum perceives a bath of thermal radiation closely analogous to Hawking radiation from black holes, even though an inertial observer registers no particles. The effects predicted raise very deep and unresolved issues about the nature of quantum particles, the role of the observer, and the relationship between the quantum vacuum and the concepts of information and entropy. © 2001 American Institute of Physics.|
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